More than 20 years ago when planning Avalon Park Orlando from scratch, I invited about 20 area REALTORS to the Citrus Club in Orlando. At that time Avalon Park was in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dead-end, 2-lane road, and the only residents were cows. My question to these REALTORS was: What would make you bring homebuyers to Avalon Park?
My expectation was to hear, 2 golf courses, a water park, or some other outstanding amenities. Having no children of my own at that time, I was surprised to hear their unanimous response was new, good schools! This was the number one item for each of the REALTORS there that day. Great, new schools. It made a lot of sense, of course, families with kids are first and foremost looking for a community with a great school. The design of the home and even the location are secondary.
However, when I met with Ron Blocker, who at the time was the head of Orange County Public Schools “OCPS,” it did not look like an easy task. According to the school board’s timeline, the much-needed and requested schools would have not been built for many years after Avalon Park broke ground. We needed a solution to bring these schools to our community. The solution is one that is our go-to for most business challenges: A Partnership. Avalon Park Group partnered with OCPS to accelerate the timeline of the Avalon Park schools, we donated land, built, and financed four of the Avalon-area schools, and kicked in the money needed for the Timber Creek High School football stadium and marching field for the band.
Now that we had the schools, the question became how do we make them the best? A key moment for me was when I met Pam Sanders. Pam was the principal who led Avalon Elementary school for 14 years and while there, achieved Blue Ribbon School status, which identifies the school as one of the top 300 schools in the United States. My question to her was, “How can we become the best school in central Florida?” Her answer was, “That is easy, we need the best teachers.” Pam came up with a great idea, which in part is the reason Avalon Elementary became such a great school. She told me, “Beat teachers are among the least traveled people. Their income does not allow them to travel and see the world. In fact, some of my teachers have not even been out of the state and for sure never abroad.” She went on to ask me, “Don’t you think a teacher who can experience the world firsthand, see the Great Wall of China in Beijing live, talk to educators in Europe, Africa, and Australia would be a better teacher?” I fully agreed and Avalon Park Group quickly worked with her to develop and sponsor a program to send the teachers from Avalon Elementary around the globe. The teachers went to Switzerland first (my native country), but over the years they also traveled to China, Africa, South America, and even Australia. Even today I get Christmas cards from teachers still at Avalon Elementary telling me how much they learned by seeing the world and gaining experience by dialoguing with educators all over the world.
Avalon Park was the fastest-selling community in central Florida for four years in a row, sold over 600 homes in 2006 and now in 2021 is 99% built out. This was not because of our location, but because of our approach of live, learn, work and play. Quite often people want to know what is the one reason that made Avalon Park so successful. My response is that there are over a hundred reasons, and all of them have roots in great partnerships with the community. However, if I get pressed to come up with one reason, it would be the schools and our partnerships with them.
I am not political when it comes to schools. I believe that public schools, charter schools, and private schools are all important and can be successful as long as they are passionate and dedicated to education. Avalon Park Group supports and works with them all. As a matter of fact, I believe in choices. All Avalon Park public schools are outstanding, and with the addition of the Avalon Pinecrest charter school, private schools like Creative Global Schools, and multiple pre-schools, the residents have choices for their children’s education. I like this a lot.
I have always viewed schools as the center of any community. The relationships and interactions between the schools and the community are key elements for both of their successes. For instance, I love when school children come to Encore Assisted Living community, they truly are a blessing to the seniors in our community. Another example of this type of relationship is the community service performed by local students at community events and service projects. Long before Avalon Park had any amenities constructed, we were able to get creative with our relationship with Timber Creek High School by creating a Co-Use Agreement. This agreement allowed the community members to use features like the school gym and media center in exchange for financing of the football stadium. The interactions go on and on and continue to make us smile.
We are proud of our schools and the students, staff, and families they represent! We wish you all success as we kick off another school year. Welcome Back to School!